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ALtogether Alabama and its partners lend support to Alabamians during COVID-19 crisis

When Alabama shut down in April to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Lorine Askew and her four daughters did their best to keep their two restaurants’ doors open, even though it was a struggle for their families.

“Like everybody else, we were affected by the shutdown,” said Askew. “But we never gave up because we had people working for us. Those people had families to feed and bills to pay, and they needed to work. When you care about your employees, you try to sacrifice for them, even if you are not getting paid. But God has continued to bless us.”

Askew and her daughters, Mary Key, Kia Tyndale, Jerelene Askew and Rewa Ford, together run Pannie-George’s Kitchen, a family-owned restaurant with locations in Auburn and Montgomery. It is named for Lorine’s parents, Pannie and George Taylor, who often welcomed church friends into their kitchen for a home-cooked “Sunday supper,” and passed their love of serving others to their children and grandchildren.

“We didn’t start out to open a restaurant, but God led us to it,” Key said. “We started out doing plate sales to raise money for our family reunion trip. We sold them at the local hospital and car lots. But people loved the food so much that they wanted us to continue, so my mom, sisters and I opened the restaurant in Auburn 15 years ago.”

Pannie-George’s Kitchen has become a favorite spot. Its new Montgomery location, which opened in January, was catching on fast. Then, the coronavirus hit.

During the shutdown, Pannie-George’s Kitchen was forced to close its dining rooms and reduce hours of operation, but it never stopped serving customers. Like other restaurants, Pannie-George’s Kitchen offered takeout and curbside service at both locations. Customers could order prepackaged meals they could reheat at home.

It was at this time that the family learned from a longtime customer and friend about the help available through ALtogether Alabama, a one-stop shop where Alabamians can ask for assistance or lend a hand during the COVID-19 crisis.

Established through a partnership with Gov. Kay Ivey’s officeOpportunity Alabama and the Alabama Power Foundation, ALtogether Alabama directs businesses, nonprofits and municipalities harmed by COVID-19 to partners that can help find relief. It connects program partners with those who most need help.

Pannie-George’s Kitchen was connected with the Alabama Power Foundation, which, through its new COVID-19 Technical Assistance Program, directed the business to a variety of funding and grant opportunities.

“When the foundation reached out to us, I said, ‘Look at God. He’s so awesome,’” Jerelene Askew said. “We had no idea there were so many resources we could apply for through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The foundation has gone above and beyond to help us, and I’m just so thankful.”

The foundation provided Lorine Askew and her daughters guidance on how the federal coronavirus relief act and other state and federal assistance could help as they navigate the hardships they face. The pandemic unemployment assistance program was created by Congress to provide financial aid to businesses and families affected by the coronavirus.

The foundation helped Pannie-George’s Kitchen pursue a forgivable loan through the Payroll Protection Program and assisted the restaurant owners in completing an application for an Emergency Injury Disaster Loan from the SBA. Additionally, the foundation offered advice on how Pannie-George’s Kitchen could take advantage of other benefits, including the employee retention tax credit and the payroll tax deferral programs offered under the coronavirus aid bill. The foundation also introduced Pannie-George’s Kitchen to leaders from Hope Credit Union, a community-based bank that has been helping small Alabama businesses.

Lorine Askew said the funds will be a “blessing,” especially since the pandemic is far from over.

“It means that we can breathe,” she said. “The funds will allow us to pay our bills, keep our employees working, and keep the lights on and the restaurant open. It’s a blessing that people care about us, so we must tell others.”

What happens when the money runs out?

The Boys and Girls Ranches of Alabama were also hit hard during the statewide shutdown and received a helping hand from the Alabama Power Foundation and ALtogether Alabama. Sponsored by the Alabama Sheriffs Association, this nonprofit provides Christian, family-style homes for the state’s abandoned, abused and neglected school-aged children.

“A lot of people view our ranches as a halfway house or a delinquent facility, but that’s not the case,” said Candice Gulley, director of the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch. “We provide these kids a safe home with ‘moms and dads’ to give them the best chance at life as possible. We see our ranches as a first chance at life for a lot of these kids, rather than a second chance.”

Children ages 6-18 live as part of a “family” unit on one of three working ranches. The kids help care for the livestock, work the farm, handle daily household chores and take part in regular devotions with their “ranch family.”

Gulley said the ranches are funded primarily through donations from individuals, civic organizations, churches and foundations. But when Alabama shut down in the spring, it brought a halt to much of that funding.

“Because the nation was hit so hard by the coronavirus, our economy just tanked,” Gulley said. “People were just struggling to put food on their own tables. When the funding stopped, we were faced with some hard decisions about how we were going to continue.”

Gulley said the administrative staff and the nonessential employees on the ranches were temporarily placed on furlough. Additionally, the ranches cut costs by adjusting their thermostats to 78 degrees, canceling their cable subscription and looking for other ways to reduce bills.

That’s when the Alabama Power Foundation stepped in to help the ranches find answers. Through its COVID-19 Technical Assistance Program, the foundation helped the ranches apply for loans through the Payroll Protection and other federal tax programs. The foundation directed them to available private and federal grant opportunities that could help meet their needs.

“The foundation introduced us to a lot of resources that we didn’t know were out there,” Gulley said. “When the foundation reached out, we were really struggling. It’s nice to have someone step up alongside us to help us care for these children.”

Gulley said things have been “looking up” in recent months. Furloughed employees are back on the job and the ranches are finding new ways to raise funds, such as the third annual Duck Norris Derby. The race, sponsored by the Tallapoosa Girls Ranch and the Tri-County Children’s Advocacy Center, will be streamed live on Facebook from Lake Martin Aug. 8.

“We’re just thankful for the tremendous amount of support we’ve received from the community during this time, even though it’s been difficult,” Gulley said. “It really does take a village. When community members come out here and cut grass, drop off meals or give graduation gifts to these kids, it means a lot.”

Myla Calhoun said the foundation is proud to help businesses and nonprofits like Pannie-George’s Kitchen and the Boys and Girls Ranches find the resources they need to successfully move forward during these difficult times.

“The Alabama Power Foundation is committed to supporting communities across Alabama and our technical assistance efforts are an extension of this commitment,” said Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “As we witnessed the negative effects the pandemic had on communities, we were able to quickly provide a viable solution by expanding our existing technical assistance program to connect small businesses and nonprofits with available resources and collaborative support.”

Check out www.altogetheralabama.com, along with this video, for more about how businesses, nonprofits and municipalities affected by the COVID-19 crisis can secure federal and nonprofit resources and receive a helping hand.

Here is how to use the ALtogether Alabama site to get assistance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)